A senior House Republican lawmaker accused President Trump's administration of "rewarding" Palestinian terrorism by continuing to provide foreign aid money to the region.
"Rather than holding them accountable, we are rewarding them with continued U.S. assistance," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., told a State Department official on Thursday.
That complaint is the latest evidence of a desire in Congress to cut taxpayer funding for the Palestinians. Trump's team wants to leave the funding in place during an attempt to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, despite proposing a cut to overall foreign aid funding.
The State Department has asked Congress for $251 million for the West Bank and Gaza. "These investments in basic services for the Palestinian people further the administration's vision to enable the growth of the Palestinian economy and improve quality of life for the Palestinians, which will also strengthen Israel's security," Ambassador Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary for Near East Affairs, said in his prepared testimony.
Ros-Lehtinen dismissed those arguments. "I know we will hear how none of this money goes directly to the Palestinian Authority or that a lot of this money goes to Israel to pay off the PA debt and that we are doing important humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza," she said. "But we all know that money is fungible. For every dollar of PA debt to Israel that we pay, that frees more funds for [Palestinian leaders] to pay the salaries of terrorists."
A group of House and Senate lawmakers has introduced legislation eliminating the funding over the Palestinian Authority's practice of providing subsidies to the families of individuals killed or imprisoned for terrorist acts.
"[The PA] actually has a schedule of what you do, and how you do it, and the level of success, that is then commensurate with the level of payment to you and/or your family," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in February. "It's an outrageous concept to be in law anywhere; it's an even more outrageous thing to be in law of an authority that we give money to."
Jones suggested that the loss of funding might jeopardize the Trump administration's ability to broker an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. "These programs are critical to supporting the Palestinian people in realizing their economic and social potential thereby creating the conditions necessary to restart negotiations and achieve a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said in his testimony.